One’s success in life is linearly correlated to one’s ability to focus. The ability to keep your attention to the task at hand is one of the most important skills to have. It is a skill that you can train. How do you train anything? Simple: you just do it, and correct your attention back to the task if you feel yourself getting distracted. Here are 5 great musical practice examples of how focus can greatly improve your efficiency and learning speed.
- Learning A Song
Rather than playing the whole song over and over again, if you repeatedly slip up on the same phrase or area of a song while practicing, zone in on that phrase only, play the phrase very slowly with a metronome and play it over and over until you have it down. Slowly increase your tempo until you can play the phrase at full speed. Then add it back into the song and play the whole song again. If you have another weak area in the song that you feel insecure about, do the same with that part till you have it mastered. Learn the song, mastering it one obstacle at a time.
- Ear Training:
Don’t try to train your aural interval recognition practicing all musical intervals all at once. Take your time listening to minor and major seconds till you confidently can hear the difference, then add minor 3rds and only practice identifying those 3 intervals, then add major 3rds, and so on.
- Technique exercises.
If you find a certain picking situation (for example “inside picking”) challenging, don’t practice long scalar picking exercises. Instead; narrow down the exercise to that one spot where you have a hard time with, or make up your own exercises to address that one particular weakness in your picking technique. Another great way to build your picking technique is short 4-8 note repetitive phrases. I always liked to call these “technique seeds”. They’re like little practice seeds, each individually addressing one specific technical challenge, which over time, as the challenges get mastered, grow into long, technical, intricate solos.
- Chord changes.
If you have a hard time moving between 2 particular chords, simplify what you are doing in your strumming hand to just quarter note down strokes, so more of your attention and brainpower can be directed to the fretting hand. Then move back and forth between those 2 chords only, changing chord every 4 beats. If it gets easier: speed up the tempo a bit. If it gets still easier, slow down a bit but now change every 2 beats. As this gets easier, accelerate the tempo a bit again.
- Learning Intricate Guitar Parts.
It is incredibly tempting, when you’re learning a guitar part or guitar solo that is very detailed (as opposed to just strumming chords), to skip ahead to easier sections, before having mastered the measure or phrase you were working on. It is also an incredibly waste of time to do so as your attention gets diverted towards too many areas in the solo simultaneously. Start with the first bar, repeat that bar over and over again till you have it memorized and mastered, then add the next couple of beats of the next bar to that. Repeat that over and over again till mastered, then add the rest of that bar to it and again repeat over and over again till mastered. Now connect both bars and practice these 2 till mastered. Work your way through the part that way measure by measure. That is the most efficient and quickest way to get a whole solo or intricate guitar memorized and mastered.
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The idea behind those examples is that you focus (zooming in) on the core of the challenge you are dealing with by removing all the other activity or interfering actions. You then slowly and attentively keep repeating the challenging action, till it becomes effortless and natural. At that point, you start adding the other elements back in: your other hand, the rest of the song, more complicated strumming, etc.
Speaking of focus: if you find yourself ending up on Facebook or checking emails or sending texts in the middle of the time you had carved out for practicing: shut down your computer and your phone and get back to practicing. Make it a habit of shutting down all possible distractions while you’re practicing.
And yes: all this takes mental discipline, character and persistence, but guess what: it also builds character, persistence and discipline.
That is part of the reason why guitar is our path to enlightenment. ☺